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The Source with Kaitlan Collins
E. Jean Carroll Speaks To CNN After $83 Million Verdict; Pentagon: Iran Has "Their Fingerprints" On U.S. Base Attack; Israel Accuses 13 U.N. Workers Of Aiding Hamas Terror Attack. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired January 29, 2024 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Some credible photos to show you, from off the coast of California. And this may be the first ever glimpse of a newborn great white shark in the wild.
A scientist and wildlife photographer captured these photos of the five-foot-long pup, from drone footage, recorded back in July, south of Santa Barbara. The duo published their findings, today, in a science journal.
It's a great mystery where great white sharks give birth to their pups. And seeing one swim in the ocean like this is extraordinary. It's extremely rare.
That's it for us. The news continues. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: And tonight, straight from THE SOURCE.
E. Jean Carroll, in her first CNN interview, since her $83 million victory against Donald Trump, what she says she plans to do with the money, and what it was like to come face-to-face, with the man found liable, for sexually assaulting her.
Also tonight, the three U.S. soldiers killed in a drone attack, all from the same Army post in Georgia, as the Pentagon says Iran's fingerprints are on the strike, and President Biden is preparing to respond, tonight.
Also, a scandal that has engulfed the United Nations agency, bringing life-saving aid into Gaza, as a dozen U.N. staffers, accused of helping Hamas, carry out its attack on Israel. Now, major countries are suspending their funding, with Gazans on the brink of starvation.
I am Kaitlan Collins. And this is THE SOURCE.
Tonight, as another major decision is looming, for Donald Trump's finances, there is a very real possibility that he could be on the hook, for half a billion dollars, in court judgments, by the end of this week. The judge, in his New York civil fraud trial, is expected to rule,
very soon, deciding whether Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars, after he was found liable for business fraud.
Tonight, the former President is still reeling, after the last court decision. He's been lashing out in his rallies, and on social media, about all kinds of grievances, but notably, not one that he had been mentioning, repeatedly, on a daily basis before. That's E. Jean Carroll. Perhaps now he has 83 million reasons to think twice about doing so.
His attorney however, is speaking about the case. Alina Habba has sent a letter, to a judge, who is presiding over the defamation case, tonight, accusing Judge Lewis Kaplan, of having a conflict of interest, with Carroll's attorney, Roberta Kaplan.
Two Kaplans, I should note, as they stressed repeatedly, as this trial was going on, are not related. But that's not what Trump's legal team is arguing about. That's not what they have. More on what they are saying, in this new filing, in a moment.
But first tonight, to the first CNN interview, my colleagues, Poppy Harlow and Phil Mattingly, spoke with E. Jean Carroll, and Roberta Kaplan.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN CO-ANCHOR, CNN THIS MORNING: What was it like to be with Donald Trump in that courtroom? He did not attend your first trial. But he was there, when it came down to the money, and what it would cost him. You hadn't seen him since 1996.
E. JEAN CARROLL, WON SEXUAL ABUSE, DEFAMATION CASE AGAINST DONALD TRUMP: I hadn't seen him since he assaulted me in the dressing room.
And preparing to see him was terrifying. The days leading up, as Robbie brought me around stronger and stronger, it was so -- I hadn't slept. I hadn't eaten. I couldn't think. I lost my language, when she was trying to prepare me to go to do testimony, in front of Donald Trump.
And then, when we were in the courtroom, and Robbie went to the lectern, she said, good morning, E. Jean. Please state your name and spell it for the jury, for the court. And there he was. And he was nothing. He was -- just no power. He had -- he was zero. That was -- I was flabbergasted.
And from then on, we just sailed through it. She brought me in. She said, say your name, and I just looked at Robbie, saw he was nothing, and it came out from there.
HARLOW: Did you -- did you make eye contact with him?
CARROLL: Many times.
HARLOW: And what was that like? CARROLL: He's an emperor without clothes. It's like looking at nothing. It was like nothing.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CO-ANCHOR, CNN THIS MORNING: Were you surprised by that? Because--
MATTINGLY: No, I can imagine -- but the environment, not just from what you went through, but also the environment in that courtroom--
MATTINGLY: --was a very different, very volatile--
MATTINGLY: --very heated environment, in terms of both Donald Trump's attorney, and Donald Trump for it to end up like that. Were you surprised?
CARROLL: Yes, yes. I had been prepared for the worst force, you know, on the Earth today, the most powerful, the most -- the most effective, the most money, the richest, the most -- you know -- you know. And there he is. He is nothing.
CARROLL: It's just the people around him, who give him the power. It's the emperor without clothes. It's Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, you know? People just gave him clothes, when he wasn't wearing any. Remember the fairytale? So that's Donald Trump.
HARLOW: Robbie, you're giving your closing argument, and Donald Trump gets up and he walks out. And I'm not sure if you could see him out of the periphery, right? I think your back was to him.
But what did you think when you learned that he walked out?
ROBERTA KAPLAN, E. JEAN CARROLL'S ATTORNEY: Yes. So, it's true. I didn't see him at all, because I was facing the jury, and he was to my left.
KAPLAN: But the judge said something. He told me that -- he told the whole courtroom that he'd gotten up and left and walked out.
And I thought to myself, whoa, like in a case about whether you can follow the rules or not, and you cannot be a bully, not following the rules and acting like a bully is not a good move. So, I thought to myself, like, OK, that's just going to give us more money, honestly.
HARLOW: You got awarded 80 -- over $83 million from this jury. Trump is obviously appealing. He has a right to do that.
Big question over the next couple of weeks is he going to get a bond for that $83 million. If he doesn't, when could your client see that money or some of it?
KAPLAN: So, he has two choices. He either has to post a bond. It's called an appellate bond, which requires him to put down 20 percent. Or he has to deposit, which is what he did for the first verdict, the entire amount with the court. So, 83, plus nine percent, so call it $89 million.
If he can't do either of those, then we can start collecting right now. And we will, for sure.
MATTINGLY: Do you believe he can do either of those?
KAPLAN: I don't know. I don't know. He didn't get a bond last time. So, maybe he's going to try to deposit the funds. I don't know what he will do.
MATTINGLY: E. Jean, one of the -- paradoxical is probably the best word I can put it -- dynamics of this moment for him, for the former President, and his legal troubles, has been politically, he only seems to get more powerful within the Republican Party.
I understand you've been focused on the trial. But do you see that? Do you have concerns? Not based on your trial specifically, but just about the fact that this person, who you've stared down, in the courtroom, has only gotten more powerful, as all of this has played out, and you've won repeatedly, in these cases?
CARROLL: It is apparent for -- the courtroom was not a courtroom to him. It was a campaign stop. That was clear.
So, we had two different objectives. Ours was to win a case, his was to win voters. We'll see how that plays out. He is using me to win voters. Sexual assault, a man found liable for sexual assault, is using the woman he sexually assaulted, to get votes.
HARLOW: You may soon though have quite a bit of his money, and I wonder how you plan to use that?
CARROLL: Oh, it's inspiring. We talk about it a lot. We're going to do good, with that money.
We are going to do -- Mary Trump has suggested we turn Trump Tower into an animal sanctuary, for instance.
Joke. That was a joke, Poppy.
No, but we are -- we are inspired to not waste a penny of this, and we have some good ideas that we're working on.
HARLOW: Specifically aimed at--
CARROLL: Well-- HARLOW: --what would oppose Trump?
CARROLL: Well, Donald Trump hates women. Remember "The New York" Magazine, the famous quote, when they said, Donald, what do you think of women that he said, women, they're not worth a piece of crap. Remember that quote?
And so, I think one of the things we could do, seeing as how he's very instrumental, in taking away women's rights, over their bodies, across the United States, maybe we can think about how we can restore women, their rights. Use a little money for that.
MATTINGLY: Do you think of what would happen if Trump is re-elected?
CARROLL: Oh, please. I can't think of that. I can't think of that. I don't think -- I don't think it's going to happen. And Robbie particularly.
Tell them Robbie, why you don't think that it's possible.
KAPLAN: I just think it's what you saw in the jury, in the courtroom, from the jury that when people are really confronted with the facts, when the rules apply, people see the truth about Donald Trump.
And this isn't the first trial. He's got a lot of trials coming up before that election. And it's going to happen to him over and over and over again. And I don't think he has enough Americans, who are willing to buy what he says, in major rallies, to elect him president, or at least that's what I hope.
HARLOW: I want to ask you, Robbie, about how Trump's going to appeal this. We have a big clue from what his attorney, Alina Habba said.
You had asked Judge Kaplan, just for some background here, to block the court or Trump's team from being able to present legal arguments, about the jury's rejection of the rape claim.
They found him liable for sexual abuse, I want to be very clear on that, and defamation. Alina Habba thinks there's a big chance for them on appeal, because of what Judge Kaplan ordered here.
Let's listen to her. And then, I want to give you a chance to respond.
HARLOW: Here she was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALINA HABBA, DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Before I walked into court, that judge decided that every single defense President Trump had, we were not allowed to raise in front of the jury. It is in writing, and I encourage the journalists, the real journalists, to take the minute, to look at his orders. There was no proof. And I couldn't prove that she didn't bring in the dress. There was no DNA. There was no expert. My experts were denied, two of them. Two of them were denied to come in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Your response, Robbie, and then -- and then you, E. Jean.
Maybe you go first because you weren't next to her. You couldn't respond in that moment. Would you like to respond now?
CARROLL: Alina Habba is gloriously talented. She's very skilled. She has ludicrous confidence. And when you hear her speak, we understand that most of what she just said was entirely made up. Entirely untrue.
KAPLAN: Yes. I understand that that is what she's saying because that's all she has to say.
But Judge Kaplan, no relation, is one of the most respected judges, in New York City. All his rulings were completely appropriate. The rules are the rules. He followed the rules. And now, Donald Trump and Miss Habba are going to have to follow the rules, and that's what the appellate court is going to say as well.
MATTINGLY: After the president's win -- former President's win in Iowa, he gave this speech, where he was very generous, and unifying. And people, for some bizarre reason afterwards, were like, this is the new Trump. And then New Hampshire happened. He had a very different way of operating.
After this victory for you all, he has not mentioned your name. He has not said much at all about the case.
I'm wondering is this going to be another one of those things, where he does it for three days, and then reverts back to form? Or is there a legal -- when you're looking at this, as a lawyer, or as somebody who has been involved in this case, you say, there's a very real reason why that individual will not be talking about this ever again?
KAPLAN: Yes, I mean he's clearly being told not to talk about it. And he's concerned that if he keeps talking about it, he's going to have to pay even more money than he has already been ordered to pay.
MATTINGLY: Valid concern.
KAPLAN: Right. But as the judge noted, in the middle of the trial, at times, he can't control himself. I mean, the judge said that to him, sir, you can't -- you appear to be unable to control yourself.
And if that -- if that part of him takes over, then, he could say something again, you know?
HARLOW: And you're willing to bring another defamation case?
KAPLAN: Absolutely. Everything is on the table.
HARLOW: E. Jean, often, many women in this country, and around the world, aren't believed. And a jury of your peers believed you.
HARLOW: And awarded you for that pain that you have endured, and then the defamation on top of it.
What is your message to other women, who are not believed, who don't have the platform you have?
CARROLL: Well this -- this is why this decision bodes well for women across. It came at a time, who needed that positive we-believe-you statement. So, this win really was, for every woman, who stood up, and been knocked down, every woman.
And Robbie and I are here. We planted our flag, and we want to turn things around, and make sure that women are believed.
COLLINS: And here with their reaction, to that interview. Former Obama White House Senior Adviser -- Policy Adviser, Ashley Allison; former Trump White House communications director, Alyssa Farah Griffin; and former Assistant U.S. Attorney, for the Southern District of New York, Elie Honig.
Alyssa, just as someone, who worked in the Trump White House, I wonder what you made of E. Jean Carroll there?
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So listen, she's a very compelling person to hear from. I think that the way she's speaking to women will resonate.
But what we have to think about, from the political side?
So first, I should say, a landmark huge eye-popping sum that she was awarded, and getting justice, so long after the fact. We know that sexual assault is wildly underreported, and then so much later to get justice.
But I don't know that this has a political impact. And the reason I say this is this. If you turn to right-wing media, this is crickets. It is not getting covered. You would be hard-pressed to even find that the settlement came down. I think that aside from Nikki Haley, actually saying the jury was right and commenting on it, it's barely making it into the right-of-center bloodstream.
But it's important for the country. It's important that she's getting justice.
COLLINS: Trump, who had been truly talking about E. Jean Carroll, non- stop, denying knowing her, saying everything that he's been saying for months now, ever since he was found liable, nearly a year ago, last May, has not mentioned E. Jean Carroll, once, since this came down. What do you make of that?
[21:15:00] ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I find what she said in the interview is that he still in some way could use this, to Alyssa's point, to further solidify his base of voters, who were not detracted from him, when he made explicit comments, about grabbing women and their private parts, acknowledging that he had that right to do it because of his celebrity.
And so, will he, at some point, use this as a conspiracy, against Donald Trump, as the other cases come down? He has lost this. But does he say, if another judgment comes down, in any one of the cases that he has, of the 91 charges, does he kind of use that to say, it's just the big state trying to come after me, and then use it as a fundraising email.
I will just say this. He's smart to keep his mouth shut now, because he's back in court, because he couldn't keep his mouth shut, after the first time, when, you know.
COLLINS: Do you think he could keep his mouth shut, and not talk about it?
FARAH GRIFFIN: It's only a matter of time. I think the reason -- and my jaw hit the floor, when I heard $83.3 million.
FARAH GRIFFIN: But he literally could not stop talking about, so he could not stop, in real time, defaming her and in the courtroom.
I think, by the way, this jury was two women, seven men, a jury of his peers that came down with this decision. I think they realized, they had to throw the book at him, and it had to be such a large sum that he might stop. And we'll see if he actually can.
COLLINS: Yes, including at the CNN Town Hall, when he was talking about it.
Elie, there is a new filing, from Alina Habba, the Trump legal team that you saw. They say they're going to appeal the verdict. No surprise there.
But in this filing, they're accusing the judge, Judge Kaplan here, and the -- her attorney is Roberta Kaplan, of failing to report a relationship, with Roberta Kaplan, saying that they worked together in the 1990s.
And Roberta Kaplan, I should note, in a statement to CNN, is denying that there is a conflict.
How does -- how does this get handled?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. This is a bogus motion by the Trump team. There's nothing there.
First of all, by the way, same last name, no relation, between Judge Kaplan and Roberta Kaplan. Every judge, in that courthouse, knows, socializes with, has worked with, sometimes maybe mentored, dozens, hundreds of attorneys, in this city. I used to practice, in that courthouse, in front of judges, who used to be my colleagues, my supervisors. If anything, they were tougher on me as a result of it. That is not enough for a conflict of interest.
And in fact, if you look at the motion, it's self-defeating. Because Trump's team cites this rule of ethics that says, well, it could be a conflict of interest, if the judge worked with the attorney, on this matter, or while the attorney was working on this matter.
The relationship they're talking about here was a law firm, professional relationship that goes back 30 years. Judge Kaplan's been on the bench 30 years.
They have their appeals issues, this ain't one of them.
COLLINS: OK. That's good to know.
And also with us here tonight is someone, who's been watching Trump's finances, very closely, Forbes Senior Editor, Dan Alexander.
And, Dan, it's great to have you.
Because the other aspect of this is how Trump pays for this. And he's claimed in depositions previously, that his stockpile of cash, he said, substantially in excess of $400 million. But based on what your analysis has been, and your reporting, can he pay this?
DAN ALEXANDER, FORBES, AUTHOR: He can pay this. He right now does have about $400 million of liquid assets. And so sure, $83 million would hurt. But yes, he could pay it.
Now, where it gets tricky is when you start adding in the other potential penalties that he could have to pay. And then, he could all the sudden find himself in a real cash crunch.
COLLINS: OK. So, the other one that you're referencing there is, we're waiting on the New York civil case here, where he's already been found liable for fraud. They're just judging to see what the -- what the price of that essentially would be. The Attorney General in New York wants it to be $370 million.
So, if that does happen, and we don't know, but if that does happen, paired with the $83 million, how much of Trump's net worth would be affected by that?
ALEXANDER: Well, about a fifth of his net worth. But more importantly, that's more cash than he has. So all the sudden, he's going to have to refinance something, sell something. And when you look across his portfolio, many of the assets that are easy to borrow against, he's already borrowed money against.
And so, there's not a ton left, that he can easily go to a bank, particularly with the credit issues that he's had, in the past, and say, hey, can you just give me $100 million here, $100 million there to sort some things out? Remember, banks at this point, are weary of Donald Trump. And so, it's going to be tricky and delicate for him, to figure this out.
He has, however, in the past, time after time, figured different ways to slip out of cash crunches. And so, we'll see if he's able to do it again, if he does face sort of the double-whammy penalty that you're describing.
COLLINS: Well, one option that he's had available to him since he has been running as a candidate, is he fundraises off of this. And he's constantly fundraising off his legal troubles. Has quite a bit of his own legal fees that he's paying for, and others.
But can he actually use what he raises with those political action committees, to pay for things like, like damages to E. Jean Carroll?
ALEXANDER: I'm skeptical that he's going to be able to suck enough money, out of his political apparatus, to really make a dent in, if you're talking about $400 million, $450 million, or something like that.
If you're paying for lawyers, you're paying a couple million dollars here, a couple million dollars there. Sure, that's real money. But to Donald Trump, that's not a huge amount of money.
And what he needs here potentially is a huge amount of money. I don't think that he's going to be able to just pull that straight out of -- out of his political operation. He's going to have to turn to his real estate assets and his business.
COLLINS: And Alyssa, you know Trump well. When you look at what Dan is talking about there, the number in totality of this that's facing him? I mean, he's facing 91 criminal counts. But this is a direct threat to his, what holds -- he holds so dear, his personal wealth.
FARAH GRIFFIN: It's his livelihood, the brand, the wealth that he's tried to create, or the way he positions himself.
Listen, this will be an extraordinary hit. And I do caution that even talking to folks, on the right, after this judgment came down, and expecting that we're going to see something soon, from New York, there is a tremendous skepticism from folks, who support Trump that they do think this looks like a witch-hunt.
They see these sums, and they're like, we've never even heard of something like this. This feels like the state or the Democrats are coming down against Trump, and they're trying to take down our man.
So, I don't see this in any way as helping maybe change the tide of sentiment around him. But he is going to be genuinely strapped for cash. I actually think Dan's a little more bullish that he can pay this than I am. But if both of these come down, he's going to be in a tough place. COLLINS: What if he can't pay it? What happens then?
HONIG: Well, then they have to start liquidating, right? I mean, he doesn't have to necessarily deliver a suitcase full of cash. But he does have extensive assets. It's a question of, is he going to?
COLLINS: What if he's reelected, though? If he's in office?
HONIG: You can still enforce a judgment, absolutely. There are limits, you're right, on what you can do against a sitting president. You certainly cannot try a sitting president, for example. You can, under the Paula Jones case, sue a sitting president, and you certainly can collect an outstanding civil judgment.
So, while winning the White House back, if he does, will get him out of a lot of trouble, it will not get him out of having to repay these verdicts.
ALLISON: But isn't this like part of the issue is, let's just say, in November, Donald Trump is elected President, again. He's actually going to have to be focused on settlements and whatnot, rather than focusing on governing the country. And that's the problem with having this person potentially be the -- with including many other problems.
But his focus is going to be so distracted because of his own self- created problems, because he lacks self-control. He is irresponsible. He can't keep his mouth shut, as we just talked about. And then, this is the person that could have the nuclear codes, worrying about whether or not he can keep his fortune or not.
HONIG: It's interesting. That's exactly the analysis the Supreme Court gave, in the Paula Jones case. They said, on the one hand, you have to be accountable. On the other hand, this person is trying to run the country. And they weighed it out and said, civil case can stand.
COLLINS: So, I'm so glad you brought up the politics of this, though, and what it means, like if he is back in office, because clearly Republicans on the Hill are getting the sense that -- I mean, he very well could be. He seems like he's on the path to the nomination. Though, we don't know.
Senator James Lankford was asked, if he had any hesitations, about Trump going back to the White House, in light of what's happened here. And this is what, how he phrased it to reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): Obviously, these are legal cases. I don't want to jump in the middle of a legal case.
It's been interesting the number of legal cases that have come up against President Trump, and then have failed, and had been dropped or had been kicked out of the courts on it. This one's actually went through. He's already said he's going to challenge it. So, let the courts actually make their decisions, and let the American people make their decisions. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: OK. If you're not on the Hill, acting as a spokesperson, who would be like, that's a great answer, I mean, what would you -- what do you -- what did you make of that?
FARAH GRIFFIN: I mean, I think that's about as far as you can go, if you're James Lankford, a very conservative Oklahoma senator, who is going to end up supporting Donald Trump.
But I think Nikki Haley has been trying to make the point. Her whole argument isn't even attacking the substance of what happened. It's he's going to be focused on E. Jean Carroll, on being in courtrooms, on trying to stay out of jail, like that, that is exactly the problem. How do you run the country if that's your focus?
COLLINS: And to add insult to injury, Trump is trying to sink the immigration deal that--
FARAH GRIFFIN: That Lankford has spent months.
COLLINS: --James Lankford has spent months, trying to negotiate. We'll see what happens with that.
Everyone, thank you. Standby.
Also, tonight, we are learning more, about the three U.S. soldiers, who were killed, in that deadly drone strike, in the Middle East. The major question, tonight, is how is President Biden going to respond? We'll be joined by a former U.S. Defense Secretary, right after this.
Plus tonight, a U.N. agency that is crucial to the humanitarian relief that is being distributed in Gaza, now being cut off, by major countries, amid accusations that staffers took part, some of them, in the October 7th attack.
COLLINS: When and how will the U.S. respond? Those are the major questions, tonight, after three American soldiers were killed, and 40 more were injured in Jordan. The White House is vowing to retaliate, as the Middle East is lurching toward the precipice of a wider war, tonight.
The families of 23-year-old specialist, Breonna Moffett, 24-year-old specialist, Kennedy Sanders, and 46-year-old Sergeant William Rivers, all mourning, tonight. All three of them were members of a reserve unit that is based out of Fort Moore, Georgia. They all died, in a drone attack, at a small outpost, in Jordan, near the border of Syria and Iraq.
And tonight, the White House and the Pentagon are pointing the finger at Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SABRINA SINGH, DEPUTY PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We know these groups are supported by Iran. And therefore, they do have their fingerprints on this.
Of course we hold Iran responsible.
JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESMAN: We know they support them. We know they resource them. We know they train them. We know that they're certainly not discouraging these attacks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: President Biden convened his national security team, as you can see here, in the Situation Room, today. It's a group that included Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, who is just back today, from the hospital, after weeks recovering from treatment for prostate cancer.
Two U.S. officials tell CNN that the enemy drone was approaching the outpost, around the same time that an American drone was returning to base, which led to confusion, over whether it was hostile. That uncertainty may have been what caused the delay to the U.S. response.
And I'm joined now by the former Secretary of Defense, under the Trump administration, Mark Esper.
Secretary Esper, thank you, for being here, tonight.
I just wonder, if you were in the Pentagon, at this moment, how would you advise the Commander-in-Chief to respond?
MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Good evening, Kaitlan. Good to be with you, tonight.
And first of all, I want to remind everybody that our thoughts and prayers should go out to the family members, and the service members, who lost their lives that were identified today. And I might add, given the nature of its reserve unit, this often affects communities as well. So, a lot to be said for that.
Look, if I were sitting in the Situation Room, like I was, on several occasions with President Trump, I would be advising that we need to strike Iranian personnel and facilities.
And we would be preparing a range of options for him that started outside of Iran, and worked its way inside Iran, until that we felt, first of all, that we responded appropriately to what had happened, the tragedy of the attack. But secondly, we'd try to keep trying to achieve deterrence with the Iranians. That would be my first message.
Secondly, I would argue that we need to begin building an international coalition, that comes together, and imposes tough financial sanctions, on Iran, for all that it's doing in this region, to cause turbulence, beginning with Israel and Gaza, but extended to the Houthis, who are shutting down 12 percent, 15 percent of commercial trade for the Red Sea.
So, it's a big problem. It's only going to get worse, if it's not addressed appropriately.
COLLINS: Given you've been in this position, where you're in the Situation Room, and you are drawing up those plans for the President? I mean, how do you make the calculation of whether you -- which we've been told by sources is on the table, striking Iranian-backed proxies, outside of Iran, or actually striking on Iranian soil? I mean, how do you make a tough calculation like that?
ESPER: Yes, look, it's a combination of science and art.
The science is we know what it would take, to destroy certain targets. We have estimates of how much damage would be caused, how many people would be killed. We could have an estimate of the effect it might have, on operations, in the region or elsewhere.
And then, the art of it is, is the subjectivity that's also informed by the intelligence personnel, who are at the table, to give you a sense of what might cause Tehran to pause, what might cause them to react and respond, and what might achieve deterrence.
So, there is a lot of art to this. That's where I like to start on the left side of the ladder, if you will, the escalation ladder, and work your way up, until you find that point, in which you get them to stop the bad behavior.
Although, look, quite frankly, after 40-plus years, this is so ingrained into their culture, into the political being of the theocracy that I'm not sure that you can achieve that without going -- without having a much more comprehensive approach, to the problem.
COLLINS: And the one part of this that we've learned, as you know, they are looking at the calculation, is that air defenses weren't necessarily prepared here, because the hostile drone was coming in at the same time, that an American drone was also returning to base.
How common, from your experience, is a mix up like that?
ESPER: Not common. I had some questions about that. I think that that needs to be really investigated, quite thoroughly. I'm sure the Command is doing that, particularly since American lives were lost, and over 40 soldiers injured.
COLLINS: Given you worked under former President Trump, we've seen him responding, saying his quote was this attack would have never happened if he were president.
But I covered the Trump administration. There were attacks, by Iran, on a U.S. base directly, when he was in office.
I mean, can you just fact-check that comment for us?
ESPER: Yes, look, it's hard to predict, in some ways. On one hand, I thought he made a pretty bold decision, in terms of
striking Soleimani, General Soleimani, in Iraq, at the Baghdad airport. I was part of that decision, that process. And it was based on intelligence that told us that he was planning strikes, against diplomatic facilities, U.S. service members, et cetera. So, I thought it was a bold decision. I thought it was the right decision.
But I also recall that when I was coming into office, in June 2019, or so, during that handover period, he pulled the punch, in terms of hesitating to shoot down an Iranian drone, that had taken down, I think, our Reaper, over the Persian Gulf, and then refused other actions that were pending.
So, I've seen the good and bad. So, it's hard to predict in some ways, how he would behave in certain situations. It oftentimes depends on the decision-makers and others around him, that cabinet members, would voice an opinion, and argue one way or the other.
COLLINS: Secretary Mark Esper, thank you, for joining tonight.
ESPER: Thanks, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: And as President Biden weighs a response, I'll be joined by a top Democrat, on the House Armed Services Committee, after a quick break.
COLLINS: From the Pentagon's count, between October 17th, and today, January 29th, U.S. forces have been attacked 165 times. 66 times in Iraq, 98 times in Syria, and then, yesterday's deadly attack that killed three U.S. soldiers in Jordan, making it 165, in total. The number of troops injured in those attacks, around 80.
I'm joined tonight by the Ranking Member, on the House Armed Services Committee, Democratic congressman, Adam Smith, from Washington.
Congressman, thank you, for being here, tonight.
Do you have more clarity, obviously, given you're on the Armed Services Committee, about what happened and who's behind this attack?
REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Well, it seems pretty clear that it was an Iranian-backed militia. And as you said, these attacks have happened in a number of different places. And it's not like they were trying to avoid casualties. We were just able to defend and, frankly, got lucky to date, and one got through. But there's no question, this was Iranian-backed militias.
Now, the information we receive is Iran is not directly ordering the attacks. But they have given a general order, to basically try to disrupt the Americans. And they've given them the space, as former Secretary Esper was saying, to make those attacks. So yes, there's no question that Iran is behind this attack. COLLINS: OK. So just to be sure, because that's important, you have not seen intelligence that Iran directed this attack?
SMITH: In fact, the general reporting that we get, like I said, is that Iran is not directing these attacks. But they're arming the militias in question. And they're giving the passive go-ahead to do what they need to do, without specificity.
SMITH: So, yes, and I mean, it's not a direct order. But Iran is still responsible for these attacks, without question.
COLLINS: Even though they're distancing themselves, which I think everyone is kind of in disbelief about.
But I think the big question, tonight, for us is what's going to come next? Because you've seen the President vowing to retaliate. And I wonder, from your perspective, what is an appropriate proportionate response to an attack that does kill three service members, and injure 40 more?
SMITH: Well, I think you have to go more directly, after the source, which is more directly after Iran. And again, Secretary Esper, I think laid out the options. There are a variety of different targets that would impact Iran, not all of them are in Iran. But I think you've got to put that on the table.
Because the calculus, right now, is just not in our favor. Iran is allowing these attacks to happen, with no consequences to themselves. And as long as that continues, the attacks will continue, and our service members will be at risk. And that can't be tolerated. You've got to change Iran's calculus, and have them bear some of the cost of what they are doing.
COLLINS: So, for what's on the table, would you -- I mean, is it a strike on Iranian soil? Is it cyber not kinetic activity, but in the cyber domain? I mean, what would you believe would be proportionate?
SMITH: Now, all of the above is on the table.
And look, I'm not, you know, I'm not going to make the call here, when the Department of Defense has a lot more details on this than I do.
But, I think, going to the source of these weapons. We're talking missiles and drones that are driving this that are being made and exported from Iran. Go after that source, and try to disrupt it. And similarly, these weapons that are some of the same ones that Russia is using, to terrorize the population of Ukraine.
So, I think that is one thing we should seriously look at. Where are these weapons coming from? Can we disrupt that flow?
COLLINS: The 165 attacks, since October 17th. I mean, every time there was an attack, we heard critics saying that the White House wasn't doing enough, to deter this. They said that they were doing it. Just a few weeks ago, the President said that he had delivered the message to Iran, and they know not to do anything.
But I mean, is it clear to you that that deterrence did not work here?
SMITH: Obviously, it hasn't worked. The attacks have continued. But that presupposes that there was something the President could have done, that automatically would have worked. And that I don't think is the case.
Look, we don't want to launch a wider war, within the Middle East. We don't want Hezbollah to launch all of their rockets, on Israel. We don't want Iran in full-scale attack in Iraq, our forces. So, you're always striking that balance between deterrence and escalation. And look--
COLLINS: Can I ask you, Congressman?
COLLINS: But when do we know if it's a wider war? Because I think some people--
COLLINS: --who aren't on the Armed Services Committee, would look at this and say, 165 attacks, three dead U.S. soldiers, they would ask if we're there yet.
SMITH: Well, two things about that. First of all, obviously, it's a wider war. But a wider war can always become wider still. That's why I specified, the big thing we don't want. We don't want Hezbollah coming down from Lebanon, and opening a second front on Israel. That would be the huge opening of the conflict.
And then, if Iran started to more directly launch their own weapons, from Iran, on our targets, as opposed to going through proxies, proxies who don't have the same capability that Iran does.
Iran could also do what they were doing, by the way, like to point out, during the Trump administration, when President Trump likes to say he could wave a magic wand, and make this all go away, when Iran was attacking Saudi Arabia, and UAE, and international ships, in a variety of different places.
SMITH: So yes, this war is wider, certainly than it was in Gaza. But it can very easily get wider and vastly more dangerous than that. And that's what the President has to guard against.
COLLINS: Yes. And Secretary Esper noted that as well. Congressman Adam Smith, thank you, for joining, tonight.
And of course, our thoughts and -- are with those families, and we are forever grateful--
COLLINS: --for their service.
SMITH: Absolutely. Thank you very much, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Up next, nation after nation are now cutting off funding, to a United Nations Relief Agency that distributes aid inside Gaza. Several workers have been fired, after allegations they were directly involved, in the terror attack, on October 7th. Details ahead.
COLLINS: An Israeli intelligence report finding that 13 United Nations aid workers were involved, in the October 7th terror attacks, by Hamas that killed 1,200 people in Israel.
An intelligence summary that was shared with CNN found that six workers infiltrated Israel, as part of the attack. Four more were involved in the kidnappings. Three others asked to provide armed backup. The New York Times also reports that one of them took part, in a massacre, at a kibbutz, where 97 people were slaughtered.
I should note, CNN has not seen the underlying intelligence here, and cannot corroborate it.
But the allegations are being taken seriously, including in the U.S., and the Fallout has been swift.
The United Nations agency has fired several of the staff members, and at least a dozen of the agency's top donors, including the U.S., have now suspended their funding, for the agency.
Joining me, tonight, Dan Senor, former Foreign Policy Adviser to the George W. Bush administration, and to Mitt Romney. Also, the host of the Israel-focused podcast that is very good, "Call Me Back."
I mean, this agency, I think, a lot of people probably weren't super- familiar with it, unless you're paying attention to Middle East politics. But as someone, who has studied this so closely, and studied Israel, what did you make of the allegations?
DAN SENOR, FORMER FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION: I wasn't surprised. I will tell you that this agency has always been extremely peculiar.
The U.N. has jurisdiction over refugees around the world. They have a function, an agency that deals with refugees everywhere, globally, except for one part of the world, Palestinians. They have this dedicated agency called UNRWA.
There were 360,000 refugees that the U.N. classified, after the 1948 War of Independence, where these people were dislocated from their homes. That number has grown to over 5 million, almost 6 million, because Palestinians, according to this agency, are the only category that can automatically transfer to their descendants, including adopted children, and grandchildren and great grandchildren, refugee status.
And what has happened is, no matter where these people live, around the world, they have refugee status. And Hamas has basically been able to take control of this agency's delivering of services in the Gaza Strip.
So, we often say, why this is so perplexing, and such a challenge, is we often say, oh, if Hamas is just removed from Gaza, there can be some resumption of normalcy in Gaza and a state could be established.
And you realize how much of the infrastructure of Gaza, even U.N. agencies operating in Gaza were--
COLLINS: Have to deal with Hamas.
SENOR: --were populated by Hamas that Hamas was actually staffing these organizations. They were working in the schools. They were working in the hospitals.
And Hamas is, depending on this agency, to deliver resources to Palestinians. Hamas doesn't have to provide the resources. And Hamas has quasi control over the -- over the agency.
COLLINS: So, with these 14 countries, and maybe growing, that have pulled their funding for now, I mean, does this group have reserves? What do they do next?
SENOR: Yes, I mean, I think their budget is something like a little over a billion dollars a year.
So taxpayers, U.S. taxpayers are funding this agency, where they definitely know, some number of employees, of the agency, were participating in the October 7th attack, at the site of the massacres, in certain locations, in southern Israel, involved with kidnapping Israelis.
So, right now, there are Arab countries, there are other third parties that could provide resources to Palestinians. But the infrastructure that has been existing, in Gaza, is collapsing. And here we have this quote-unquote, third-party U.N. agency, that that's -- that's like part of the rot.
COLLINS: And I think that's the quandary here, because I mean, I think everyone was horrified, by this -- these allegations, and what came out, and the fact that they were involved in actual kidnappings and the attacks. But as Secretary Blinken was framing it, today, UNRWA is kind of indispensable, at the moment, to actually helping distribute the aid. And there are still people, who are starving in Gaza, and disease is rampant. So, what's the solution here?
SENOR: This is -- so, this is a classic situation, where everyone says, OK, so Israel, what's your plan? I'm always told, like, Israel, you know, what -- so what's Israel going to do?
COLLINS: And Israel doesn't want to deal this.
SENOR: Israel doesn't want to deal with this. Israel says we have to remove Hamas.
What you realize is Hamas is controlling a lot more than just what we see on the surface as Hamas. So, Israel is turning to the rest of the world, saying, what's your plan for Gaza? Like why is this only on Israel's doorstep? Israel experienced this genocidal attempt, on its territory.
But the reality is Gaza also shares a border with Egypt. What's Egypt's plan for Hamas? What's Egypt's plan for all these Palestinians? Everyone is worried, as I am, about the future of these Palestinian civilians. Why not let them out of southern Gaza? Why not let some of them get into Egypt?
What -- like, there's over 20 countries in the Arab world that expressed horror about what's happening in Gaza. Clearly, the infrastructure that's in place in Gaza cannot sustain protecting these civilians, from the horrors of Hamas. In fact, Hamas is controlling these resources.
So, I think Israel needs to start looking to other countries, and saying, you have a plan? We don't have a plan. America doesn't have a plan. We need a plan.
COLLINS: Yes. And you see the civilians are the ones, who are kind of lost in the brink.
Dan Senor, thank you, for coming on--
SENOR: Good to be with you.
COLLINS: --to talk about such an important issue.
SENOR: Thanks, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Up next, for us here, Super Bowl LVIII now set. The scramble for tickets is on. Wait until you hear the cheap seats cost this yes. Let me give you a hint. It's not so cheap.
Also, the odds that Taylor Swift will be able to make it given the night before, she'll be on the other side of the world.
COLLINS: The Super Bowl matchup has been set, as the Kansas City Chiefs are hoping to become back-to-back NFL champs, when they face the San Francisco 49ers, on February 11th.
Already, this year's Super Bowl tickets are the most expensive ever, on record. So, what's the price for the cheapest ticket? And how cheap is it really?
CNN's Harry Enten is here.
Harry, what is the least expensive ticket? And how does it compare to past Super Bowls?
HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yes. So, even as we were preparing for this segment, the cheapest ticket has become more expensive on the secondary market.
It is now well over $8,000, for the cheapest ticket. I don't know about you. But the idea of spending $8,000, for one ticket to one game, in which my teams are not even involved, not exactly my idea of a good time.
If you look back last year, the cheapest ticket was in fact a little bit less than $6,000. Hey, relatively reasonable compared to that over $8,000.
Go all the way back to Super Bowl I. You know what the cheapest ticket was for that Super Bowl?
ENTEN: $6. $6. Now, there has been inflation that's taken place. So, maybe it'd be more like $56, in today's money. But I think $6 will be much more my speed. Of course, Super Bowl I wasn't even sold out. I can assure you that this Super Bowl will most certainly be sold out.
COLLINS: So, we shouldn't even say the cheapest ticket, because really it's just the least-expensive expensive ticket.
ENTEN: Yes, I think that's--
COLLINS: It's a better way to phrase it?
ENTEN: Yes. It's like kind of like being like the most beautiful person like in, I don't even know, in a cemetery--
COLLINS: A remote island?
ENTEN: Yes, remote island or something--
COLLINS: Deserted island?
ENTEN: --with the skeletons or the mummies, like the most beautiful mummy. That's what it is. It's the most beautiful mummy.
COLLINS: OK. I hope The Mummy audience won't be offended by that.
ENTEN: I hope not.
COLLINS: The big question that I have, my sister has, a lot of people have? Taylor Swift. She has been going to so many of the Chiefs games. And she was at the playoff game.
COLLINS: But she has a concert in Tokyo, the night before.
ENTEN: She does.
COLLINS: Can she feasibly -- I mean, she's Taylor Swift. So, I'm going to assume the answer is yes. But can she make it?
ENTEN: She could teleport back. She is Taylor Swift. She can do anything.
Look, I've actually calculated this out. The thing to remember is that Tokyo is 17 hours ahead of Las Vegas, Nevada. So, if you take that into account, and you figure that the flight time is about 11.5 hours, her concert will end at about 5 AM Las Vegas time, on Saturday. A 11.5, she should make it back in plenty of time, for the 3:30 start, on Sunday.
I have no doubt, if she wants to be there, she will be there. She's Taylor Swift. She can do anything she wants, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: And are your Taylor Swift sources saying that she'll be there?
ENTEN: I am -- yes, I believe she may very well be there. If my hopes and dreams come true, she will be there.
COLLINS: Harry Enten, thank you very much.
ENTEN: Thank you.
COLLINS: And thank you so much, for joining us, on this busy news night.
"CNN NEWSNIGHT WITH ABBY PHILLIP" starts right now.